Rolling slideshow will be back soon, meanwhile enjoy these Royalty Free historical fiction choices!

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Tom-All-Alone's or The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd

Tom-All-Alone’s/The Solitary House

My book has two titles – The Solitary House in the US, and Tom-All-Alone’s in the UK, and in fact the source of those two titles is probably as good a place to start as any.  Both Tom-All-Alone’s and The Solitary House were titles Charles Dickens considered when he was writing Bleak House. I’ve chosen these ‘alternative titles’ for my book because it is, in effect, an ‘alternative Bleak House’.

My book is a murder mystery which runs in parallel with events in Bleak House. At certain points in the plot the two stories converge, and episodes in Bleak House also take place (usually from a different viewpoint) in my novel. I also draw in characters from Dickens, ranging from the lawyer Tulkinghorn, to little Jo the crossing-sweeper, to the first detective in English fiction, Inspector Bucket.

So why Dickens, and why Bleak House?

My first novel was called Murder at Mansfield Park, and that title is one of those that do exactly what it says on the tin: I took Jane Austen’s novel and turned it into a murder mystery rather in the format of a classic Agatha Christie. The fun for me in that novel – and hopefully for the reader as well – was not just to take Austen into a new genre, but to write the book in her style. That was a real labour of love, and I worked very hard both to mimic her beautiful prose, and ensure that the language I used was authentic for the period.

I never intended to write a sequel, but so many readers told me they loved Charles Maddox, my ‘thief taker’ detective, that I realised it was rather foolish not to make more use of him.  And I also realised that I might be able to develop the idea of ‘literary murder’ further, and take on another giant of English literature. And who better than Charles Dickens?

That’s what led me to Bleak House, which I’ve always believed to be his masterpiece. I decided very early on that I didn’t want to imitate Dickens’ style, so I opted instead for inhabiting his world. I immersed myself in Victorian London, in an attempt to re-create the sights, sounds, and smells of the city. I researched the leather trade in Bermondsey, and the rookeries of Covent Garden and St Giles; I was shocked by what I learned about the sex trade (and I don’t consider myself na├»ve), and surprised how quickly villages like Brixton were becoming absorbed into the metropolitan sprawl.  It was a fascinating journey, and I’ve been thrilled how many people have responded to the portrait of London I’ve tried to paint for them.

So if you adore Dickens, I think you’ll have fun reading Tom-All-Alone’s/The Solitary House – I’ve certainly written it in a spirit of love and respect, and the more deeply you know Dickens, the more echoes and ‘nuggets’ you will find in my novel. But I’ve also been very careful to construct my book so that everyone can enjoy it, so if you’ve never read Bleak House, or any other Dickens for that matter, I hope it works just as well as a good old-fashioned Victorian murder mystery.

Tom-All-Alone’s is available from the UK from Corsair, and The Solitary House is issued in North America by Random House. The US Kindle version includes a free bonus copy of Bleak House. Lynn’s website is, and this includes a video which was shot in some of the locations used in the novel. Her Twitter ID is @Lynn_Shepherd.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Legionary by Gordon Doherty

It was a characteristically bleak autumn afternoon in Northumberland as I sauntered along the tumbled ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. After an obligatory imagining of myself kitted out in legionary armour, barking out orders to my cohort, I sat down to take in the landscape. I tried to envisage the rolling hills in the age when the auxiliaries of Britannia would have lined this ominous frontier and garrisoned the forts, milecastles and watchtowers. I imagined a firm and seemingly eternal signpost shouting out to all and sundry ‘This is Rome and she’s here to stay!’ Yet now I could see only the squat remains of foundations and surrounding rubble and the Romans were long gone. A question entered my thoughts, demanding to be answered: how had the greatness of Rome faded from the invincibility of the pax romana to this?

Fast forward a few years: I was strolling along the inner tier battlements of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople/Istanbul (or more accurately I was tentatively inching along them and trying not to look down – they’re pretty high up and a bit crumbly) around the Golden Gate area. The structure extended north into the smog of the city, sentinel-like towers standing empty but eerily defiant after fifteen hundred years. The place was electric, the air crackling with history and I felt that hunger for an answer again: how could the Roman and Byzantine grip on Europe, Western Asia and Africa have dwindled to nothing, leaving behind a behemoth-like architectural carcass like this?

Having done my reading I now know the textbook answers to the two questions above, but have been left with something far more valuable: a sustained intrigue, nay obsession, over the decline from the pax romana to the post-Roman world and the real answers to these questions.

While the order, prosperity and pristine legions of the high principate are a fascinating blend, I find it somewhat too perfect. What really fires my imagination is the 3rd century AD and onwards, an age which sees Rome’s forts and cities decaying, her pagan ideals being swept into history by Christianity, her economy stagnating and her legions thin, scattered and all-too-mortal. What events could have occurred in this era that have since been lost to the ghosts of the past, echoing along the battlements of these walls and fortifications? What of the people of these times, they would have had to live with the reality that greatness was slipping away from them while they still clung to the ideals of their recent ancestors. And then there were the ‘barbarians’; with the Goths, Vandals, Franks, Alans, Parthians and Huns just a selection of the powerful and now militarily equal peoples pressing relentlessly on the empire’s borders, fiery conflict and desperate and heartfelt emotion must have been rife.

So all this has me jilting the perfection of invincible Rome and falling for the complexity of her flawed descendant and that’s why I sat down to write Legionary. Perhaps it is my admiration for the spirit of the underdog that nudges me this way and I feel that one day a psychiatrist might confirm that. Whatever the reason I’m just grateful for what has turned out to be a perpetual fuel for my writing.

And even now when I visit the ruins, I’m still seeking true answers to those questions that demand to be answered.